Ontario's elementary school teachers union has come out in favour of mandatory vaccination for all school staff, and said the province's voluntary disclosure policy announced Tuesday does not go far enough to protect students and education workers from COVID-19.
The Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO) made the announcement after its annual meeting, and called on the Ford government to do more to safeguard the health of students and staff before the academic year begins in a matter of weeks.
"Given the severity and longevity of the global pandemic, it is not unreasonable for the Ford government to implement a mandatory vaccination policy in schools," said ETFO president Sam Hammond in a news release.
"Considering the increased risks the delta variant poses to those who are unvaccinated, including children under 12, and with a concerning rise in the number of COVID-19 cases across Ontario, we must do everything we can to ensure the health and safety of all Ontarians; this includes mandating vaccines for all staff working in schools, with exceptions."
Ontario Premier Doug Ford has rejected calls to make vaccination against COVID-19 mandatory in the workplace.
Hammond's statement comes on the same day the province announced employers in Ontario's public education and several key health-care settings will need to have COVID-19 vaccination policies in place for staff in the coming weeks.
Vaccination status disclosure policy
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Education said it intends to implement a vaccination status disclosure policy for publicly funded school board employees, as well as staff in private schools and licensed child-care settings.
The province's Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore also said he is in discussions with the Ministry of Education about an immunization policy for students that would see parents report their children's vaccination status so public health units can keep track in the event of possible outbreaks.
Those not vaccinated against COVID-19 will be required to undergo frequent rapid antigen testing.
But those measure do not appear to satisfy Hammond, who says the Ford government has not done enough to keep schools safe.
"Students, educators and other education workers are being sent back to unsafe schools because the Ford government has consistently failed to make the investments necessary to ensure a safe and sustainable reopening," Hammond's statement said.
"In the absence of adequate protocols that will effectively mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in schools, mandating vaccination can help protect the safety of both staff and students."
Tuesday's announcement by the province prompted mixed reviews with NDP and Opposition Leader Andrea Horwath released a statement calling Tuesday's announcement "a risky half-measure."
Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca, who called Tuesday for mandatory vaccination of all legislators, accused Ford of "pandering to anti-vaxxers."
The Ontario School Board Association called the planned policy for educators a "positive step" toward ensuring schools stay safe and open, while the Ontario Hospital Association said it was "pleased" to see the government lay out basic requirements for vaccination policies.